Salvia discolor

“Black” flowers – very desirable to many gardeners, even though (strictly speaking) they are not a true black. Rather, the black colour is due to a composite of dark coloured pigments in high concentrations. Despite a truly black flower being unattainable, plant breeders and hybridizers on occasion do their best to produce the darkest flower possible, and so flowers which are bred to be black are not impossible to find in the marketplace.

There are, however, a few plants that haven’t been bred to be black, bur rather evolved that way. Salvia discolor (Andean silver-leaf sage) is one of those few. I was hoping to tell the story of why Andean silver-leaf sage has black flowers, but came up with very little while researching the evolutionary biology of its flower colour. Is the pigmentation irrelevant to its pollinators? If that’s the case, why undergo the biological cost of concentrated pigmentation? Is the colour a strategy to accelerate floral development by increasing heat absorption (keeping in mind that it grows in high altitudes in the Andes) and thus biological activity? I’m speculating quite a bit; I don’t have any expertise with floral pigmentation and development, but maybe someone with knowledge will comment and provide some answers (or at least more informed speculation!).

I should mention that if you live in the Vancouver area, you can pick up this plant at UBC Botanical Garden’s Perennial Plant Sale on Sunday – first come, first serve though, and I suspect Salvia discolor will sell out quickly. One of the great things about the sale (for you) is that the public get first dibs – volunteers and garden staff have to wait an hour after the sale opens to purchase plants. Good for you, not so good for me – but I don’t have a sunny spot at home to grow it anyway, as much as I like the plant.

A couple of other housekeeping notes: David Winter at Science and sensibility added the Botany Photo of the Day and the UBC Botanical Garden Weblog to his list of weblogs devoted to botany: Botany in the Blogosphere (after I had commented on his original list). David particularly liked the tagline “In science, beauty. In beauty, science. Daily.”.

Then, while using Technorati to see who is linking to the Photo of the Day, I noticed Sandy from Pollenatrix commented on the Calypso bulbosa photograph from a few days ago. That was great, but I then realized to my dismay that her tagline is “Botanical discipline, daily.”. I know that Pollenatrix has been around for a long time, and I’d certainly visited it a few times in the past. Sandy, will you forgive me? I must have liked the last bit of your tagline so much that I incorporated it into this one subconsciously – I promise it wasn’t a conscious decision. I’ll do a rethink on the one used for Botany Photo of the Day and alter it (or maybe someone has a suggestion to replace the word, “daily”?).

I’ll explain the inspiration for the rest of the tagline in a future post.

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Kadsura interior

(Douglas Justice, Curator of Collections at UBC, wanted to guestblog today – I’ve added a comment with some of my thoughts — Daniel)

With the possible exception of Kadsura japonica (magnolia vine), Kadsura is poorly known in cultivation. Evergreen twining lianas (woody climbers), they are closely related to Schisandra, a genus of mostly deciduous vining species from Asia (one species in the SE USA). Both genera produce unisexual flowers, usually on different plants, with the females exhibiting separate carpels spirally arranged on a conical torus (floral axis). Once fertilized, each carpel expands to become a spherical berry and the torus expands, elongating into a spike in Schisandra or becoming globose as in Kadsura.

Kadsuras are strictly Asian and Kadsura interior is known only from SW Yunnan and NE Myanmar (Burma). This species differs from the related Kadsura heteroclita (Roxburgh) Craib by its softball-sized fruits covered with up to 70 glossy, red berries (K. heteroclita produces smaller walnut-sized fruits with fewer berries). We have only the one plant, derived from seed collected by Peter Wharton (curator of the David C. Lam Asian Garden) from a venerable 25m specimen growing at 2200m on Qiqi Mountain, Gongshan County, Yunnan. Although this species is monoecious (both male and female flowers are produced on the same plant), production of its extraordinary fruits is not assured as pollen may be released when stigmas are not receptive. Dichogamy (the maturation of male and female organs at different times, thus effectively preventing self-polination) is a common feature in monoecious plants. In protandrous plants (anther release prior to stigma receptiveness), sufficient pollen can be collected and stored until pollination can be effected; however, this species appears to be protogynous (our first flowers are clearly female).

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Trachycarpus fortunei

The palm trees near the garden entrance are in full flower. This was a quick snapshot from yesterday, taken without all of my usual tools (tripod, plamps, reflectors), but it still turned out okay. I’ve photographed these Trachycarpus fortunei a few times in the past year, but I’ve yet to take a good habit shot – they’re still too short.

As an aside, this entry begins the second month of Botany Photo of the Day (I planned to use a different (and I think superior) photograph today, but I need to verify a few things first – so maybe tomorrow). When we launched Botany Photo of the Day, it was with the understanding that we’d try it out for a month and gauge the response. It does take effort and discipline to have something fresh and appealing every day, and the question arises of whether this is the best use of limited resources (we’re not NASA and their Astronomy Picture of the Day by any stretch of the imagination).

My assessment after a month’s worth of entries is mixed. Conversation about the photographs comes readily enough from people I interact with through work, but only one person not affiliated with UBC has left a comment (although to be fair, a few weblogs have linked to us with comments), so that’s slightly disheartening. On the other hand, at least a few dozen people subscribe to the RSS feed, so I’m pleased with that. Lastly, the number of unique web site visitors for April was easily 1.5 times our previous highest month – part of that can be explained because of spring and people using the discussion forums for gardening q+a, but it is also at least partly due to the Photo of the Day.

So, while I wouldn’t consider this feature a raging success, I think it should continue on in this format for the time being and be given a chance to grow. It seems to have potential. I’ve yet to receive any negative feedback, but the concerns that were initially raised about it remain to be addressed.

Update (May 5, 2005 8:50 AM PST): One of the potential advantages of doing the Photo of the Day in the “weblog way” just emerged – go visit the updated entry for Babiana ringens to see what I mean.

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Peltigera membranacea

This is “membranous dog-lichen” interwoven with a species of beaked moss (likely Kindbergia oregana, but I could be convinced it is Kindbergia praelonga). The “pelts”, as members of the genus Peltigera are commonly known, are perhaps my favourite lichens. How can one find fault with their texture, colour and form? And how can one not be intrigued by the lichens anyway, “organisms” that are actually a composite of a fungus and either green algae or blue-green algae (or, on occasion, all three!)?

If you look closely, you’ll see a few orange-red structures along the edge of the thallus (the body of the lichen). These are the apothecia; these fruiting bodies from the fungal portion of the lichen will eventually release spores. However, spore release is thought to be a poor way for lichens to reproduce – when the spore reaches its new environment, the fungal component of the lichen begins to grow, but it must somehow find its related alga. It is thought that lichens better propagate themselves through breakage and distribution of a part of the thallus, which distributes all parts of the composite organism to the new environment.

Ethnobotanical note: In Lichens of North America (a must-have book for any lichenophiles), the authors state that the membranous dog-lichen was used by the Kwakiutl tribe of northwestern BC as a love charm. The authors go on to wonder, “it is not clear how (or if) it worked”. I’ve been trying out a few different methods with it for this purpose, but I haven’t been successful yet. I’ll keep you posted.

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Sutton Creek, British Columbia

Honeymoon Bay Ecological Reserve, near Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island, BC, was preserved for the dense concentration of Erythronium revolutum (pink fawn lily) that can be found blooming in late April. Knowing that this year’s spring has been quite warm, I didn’t hold out much hope for seeing many (or any) of the fawn lilies in bloom last weekend; as it turned out, I only found two plants blooming amongst thousands of seed capsules. I did however discover that the timing of the flowers roughly coincides with the blooming of the same species in the Native Garden, so I now have a timely indicator of when to visit the area in future years.

The trip had value beyond scouting for future trips; the trilliums and bleeding hearts were in full swing, and the vanilla-leaf (Achlys triphylla) was just starting to flower. The scenery was outstanding as well, so I was inspired to try out a few landscape shots, like this one.

Sutton Creek borders one side of the ecological reserve. I was intrigued by the moss-laden overhanging branches of Acer macrophyllum (big-leaf maples) that lined much of the creek, so this is my attempt at illustrating them.

One other thing to note is the “white-barked” trees on the other side of the creek. This is Alnus rubra (red alder), which actually has grey bark. Here though, the bark is near-completely covered with white crustose lichens, and I’ll guess that one of the culprits is Graphis scripta (hieroglyphics lichen).

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Calypso bulbosa

If you had been walking along one of the park trails near Ladysmith (BC) on Saturday, you might have found a bit of an odd sight: a man lying on his stomach on the trail.

I don’t think anyone did see the sight, but I wouldn’t have noticed if they had. I was lying on my stomach on the trail, busily taking a photograph of these fairy-slipper orchids.

Calypso bulbosa has a widespread distribution across the temperate northern hemisphere, but it is becoming increasingly uncommon near populated centres, due to trampling, flower-picking and naive attempts at transplanting.

These two flowers are a touch past their prime; more recently-emerged flowers in the locale were a deeper shade of purple, much like the colour seen on this Calypso bulbosa photographed last year in Banff. I didn’t notice yellow in the throat of the flowers in the plants near Ladysmith, but that may have been carelessness of observation on my part.

Calypso was a nymph in Greek mythology; she delayed Odysseus from returning home for seven years.

As a last note, if you are looking for an orchid for your garden, may I suggest Bletilla striata? They’re available in limited quantity at this year’s Perennial Plant Sale.

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